Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002653, Fri, 19 Dec 1997 11:37:08 -0800

PF narrator?: PF/Hamlet (fwd)
I would certainly agree with Prof. Morris about a certain eschatological
similarity between HAMLET and PALE FIRE. But I take issue with his interesting
interpretation of that resemblance.

I am almost certain for Shakespeare, and pretty sure for Nabokov, that the
providential peace which Shade and Hamlet find near the ends of their fictive
lives are not meant to be ironic. When Hamlet discovers or refinds the Òspecial
providenceÓ which seems to oversee the universe, he realizes that the end he has
been seeking ever since his encounter with the ghost will come when he ceases to
try to shape his own destiny, and simply finds a state of ÒreadinessÓ that lets
him take advantage of providential opportunities. Sure enough, the duel gives
him that chance, and his end seems to be the consummation for which he has so
devoutly wished, rather than some manifestation of disorder or cosmic irony.

The Òlink-and-bobolinkÓ pattern which Shade believes he has discovered in his
universe is also Òprovidential:Ó the work of a conscious, artistic, creator.
We know that ShadeÕs cosmos is, in fact, an artistic, patterned creation,
because we know that Nabokov is the divinity which shaped ShadeÕs ends. To me,
this is suggestive of an affirmation of pattern, order, art, meaning, not a
denial. Make sense?

Coincidentally, this reading tends to put me in the camp of those who say that
the "did Shade create Kinbote, or vica versa" discussion is the wrong
discussion, since Nabokov so intrusively created them both. In one sense, part
of the fun of PALE FIRE is watching figments of the authorÕs imagination
fighting to assert their superior Òreality.Ó

Also coincidentally, we underestimate Shakespeare if we forget that he, like VN,
was quite aware of the fact that he is the God of his characters' worlds -
certainly this theme has never been developed more persuasively or more
charmingly than in the "play-within-a-play" scene at the end of MND. We laugh
as we watch actors playing characters who are laughing at actors playing
characters who are playing characters. Maybe in both authors, the great
question is: who is watching us watch them.

Samuel Schuman
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
and Dean
University of Minnesota, Morris